Decades of hardly any competitors gave SAB an enviable problem: too much cash and too few places to put it. Foreign exchange controls and eventually international isolation forced SAB to buy businesses in its own backyard. By the mid-1990s, SAB was a sprawling industrial conglomerate, with a finger in every pie. It owned Southern Sun Hotels, manufacturers Plate Glass, Afcol and Lion Match, and retailers Edgars and OK Bazaars to name but a few. In 1990 SAB acquired a brewing company in the Canary Islands and by 1992 had decided that Central Europe, where a host of middle-income economies were emerging from communist rule, was the place to be. The next year it bought the largest brewer in Hungary and two years later took a stake in the Lech brewing company in Poland. But it soon became clear exchange controls would still be a hindrance to the group’s overseas ambitions. So SAB decided to list in London to attract more capital for international expansion. It started hiving off assets a...

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